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How Stephen Colbert’s ‘Late Show’ Stacks Up Against Jimmy Fallon – And David Letterman

CBS host has experienced a ratings roller coaster in his first three months on the job

Tonight, Stephen Colbert welcomes Marion CotillardGeorge Saunders, and Joanna Newsom, who will help celebrate the three-month anniversary of CBS’ new-look “Late Show.” While the first completed quarter-year’s worth of episodes may not be mentioned on-air, its ups and downs are worth a look back.

First, the good news: “The Late Show” has averaged a 0.86 rating in the key 18-49 demographic and 3.5 million total viewers since Sept. 8, per Nielsen’s “most current” numbers, which include seven-day delayed viewing where available. That demo number is up a whopping 72 percent year over year versus 2014, while the overall eyeball count has jumped 30 percent over the same measured time period.

One wrinkle that will exaggerate Colbert’s big season-to-date gains a bit is that, last year, CBS excluded its late-night results on NFL Thursdays. This year, the network has kept in the averages from those generally strong evenings.

For comparative purposes, reigning late-night king Jimmy Fallon‘s “Tonight Show” has averaged a 1.14 rating and 4 million total viewers each evening over on NBC. Those numbers are down 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively, year over year. Fallon’s fairly modest losses should be expected — and probably happily accepted within NBCUniversal — due to Colbert’s highly anticipated involvement in the time slot.

The numbers in this story include Colbert’s premiere week, which naturally inflates his semi-brief tenure. Colbert’s most-recent week measured up just 2 percent in the main demo versus his predecessor David Letterman. In other words, the longer this thing goes on, the thinner those CBS-over-CBS gaps become.

On ABC, “Jimmy Kimmel Live” has averaged a 0.59 and 2.5 million total viewers thus far this season, down a more dramatic 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Naturally, with a lower starting point than Fallon, Kimmel’s drops appear more drastic on a percentage basis. It’s worth mentioning here that Colbert didn’t top Kimmel any week in November, however, so the two have swapped spots in the standings as of late.

All numbers in this story cut off on Nov. 29 — the most-recent available week of TV ratings at the time of this writing. So, while tonight marks Colbert’s 90-day anniversary, the numbers we’re using are still shy of three episodic months.

Below are the weekly Nielsen ratings for Colbert’s “Late Show” in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic, per Nielsen’s Live + Same Day metric.

Week of Sept. 7: 0.94 adults 18-49 demo rating
Sept. 14: 0.72 rating
Sept. 21: 0.78 rating
Sept. 28: 0.73 rating
Oct. 5: 0.64 rating
Oct. 12: 0.59 rating
Oct. 19: 0.57 rating
Oct. 26: 0.61 rating
Nov. 2: 0.57 rating
Nov. 9: 0.56 rating
Nov. 16: 0.56 rating
Nov. 23: 0.54 rating

And here’s the same snapshot among total viewers:

Week of Sept. 7: 4.454 million total viewers
Sept. 14: 2.854 million
Sept. 21: 3.217 million
Sept. 28: 3.122 million
Oct. 5: 2.893 million
Oct. 12: 2.628 million
Oct. 19: 2.300 million
Oct. 26: 2.621 million
Nov. 2: 2.492 million
Nov. 9: 2.381 million
Nov. 16: 2.623 million
Nov. 23: 2.504 million

Perhaps we shouldn’t pour salt in the wound on someone’s anniversary, but the numbers do not lie.

Finally, below is Fallon’s weekly margin of victory in the main demo. Admittedly CBS would be a bit more formidable in the 25-54 demo and total viewers, but not enough to flip the script.

Sept. 7: Fallon +28 percent over Colbert in adults 18-49 demo
Sept. 14: +38 percent
Sept. 21: +35 percent
Sept. 28: +41 percent
Oct. 5: +38 percent
Oct. 12: +56 percent
Oct. 19: +54 percent
Oct. 26: +59 percent
Nov. 2: +60 percent
Nov. 9: +70 percent
Nov. 16: +79 percent
Nov. 23: +137 percent